'23 Club: Carolyn Caines

Carolyn Caines sits in her office filled with memorabilia from her family and teaching career.

Carolyn Caines’ family scrapbook reads more like an abridged history of the Kelso-Longview area’s early years.

Black-and-white photos feature Caines’ grandparents at their Columbia Heights home in 1906, when the hill was still nicknamed Puolanga Hills — named after the village in central Finland they emigrated from. Copies of her grandparents’ marriage certificate from 1908 and a postcard, mailed to Catlin, Wash., (now west Kelso) are pasted beside Caines’ commentary on her family’s story.

“I think they would think their story wasn’t all that much, but I just admire them so much,” said Caines, a third-generation Cowlitz County resident who lives in Lexington.

Caines’ grandparents, Thomas and Reeta Juntunen, immigrated to the Pacific Northwest in 1906 from Puolanka. Reeta, who was unmarried upon arriving, traveled by herself from Ellis Island to Astoria, and Thomas came later.

“You see how much determination they had to have,” said Caines, who has written extensively about her Finnish roots. “My grandmother left her landowning family to come to America. She was put on a boat and a train to Astoria and didn’t speak a word of English. She could’ve turned around and gone back to Finland.

“Just the determination to face all this newness and know that you’d never go back and see your family again, I can’t even imagine,” said Caines, 68.

Settling a new land was arduous, Caines wrote in her book, “Coming to America: A Finnish Family Story.” While Thomas spent time away from home at logging camps, Reeta and her eldest son tended to the family’s farm and small herd of cattle. When Reeta fell ill, doctors operated on her on the family’s kitchen table, because their home was eight miles away by horse and buggy from town.

The Finnish community was clustered for decades on Columbia Heights. Children went to school in a one-room schoolhouse, where many of the students, including Caines’ mother, first learned to speak English. Families worshiped at the Finnish Mission Congregational Church, a modest building that Caines also visited growing up until it was torn down in the 1960s/70s.

By the time Caines became a teen in the 1950s, the Finns had spread out, but Longview maintained its small-town, community spirit. It had the innocence of a bygone era, Caines said.

“There would be hobos hopping off the train behind our house. They would come to our back door, and my mom would hand out food. I can’t imagine doing that now,” she said. “You didn’t have the concerns you do nowadays about break-ins. You just didn’t worry about things like that.”

She left briefly to attend Seattle-Pacific University. When Caines returned to the area in the 1970s to begin her 30-year teaching career, the city still had an idyllic charm. She remembers living in her Commerce Avenue apartment, playing her piano that she rented for $4 a month as customers in the drugstore below her apartment purchased buttons and combs.

“I didn’t feel bad coming back. It was thrilling and exciting living downtown,” she said. “And I met my husband there. He lived down the hall. We got engaged too soon, in three months. We were married in six months.” It worked out. She and Michael Caines have been married 45 years.

Caines still loves downtown Longview.

“I go downtown every day. There are the new lamp posts and benches and the art work on the street. It’s a small-town feeling. I love that,” she said.

Though Caines said she thinks the city is doing well, she acknowledges the city’s current hardships. For those that feel pessimistic, Caines said the answers are in the past.

“We have to look behind to see our future. Delving into the history and finding about their faith, I think their faith in God gave them the determination to keep going,” Caines said. “I think Longview people have to go back to their roots and be determined again.

“There’s hope. The future is bright, even though we’re going through hard times right now.”

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